Thursday, 27 August 2015

Did we tell you we've been on a twitch?

The Safari seems to have been neglectful of our duties and not informed you we went up north a-ways with BD at the weekend to see if we could see an American visitor to our coast.
We drove up in sunshine and arrived at the site only to be told our quarry was no longer in the roadside creek only a few yards away but had flown onto the estuary where there was a huge expanse of mudflats for it to enjoy and huge numbers of Redshank in which to secrete itself. Off to the estuary we went and found a small crowd of telescoped birders stood on the seawall. The only trouble was we could tell they hadn't found the bird as they were all looking in different directions. We'd have to wait til the tide rose and limited the amount of mud available and probably forcing it back to the creeks. 
Cloud rolled in from the south and a cool wind picked up. Out on the river something flushed about 500 or more Lapwings off the flats but the distant Redshank flock stayed put on the deck. We saw four Little Egrets, no sign of the Spoonbill that had been here for the best part of a week though - it would be reported again the following day, would have been a nice bonus bird for our Year List Challenge with Monika, we've not seen one for a few years now dipping out on one a couple of years back.
People drifted away, some giving up and others going to have a look back in the creeks, we chose the later as the sky become more and more threatening and a brief but ferocious squall whipped up out of nowhere. 

We got to the little roadside car park and had a look in the creeks from a variety of angles to no avail, just a few Mallards, a Redshank and a Curlew where there. At the furthest point of our short walk there was a rumble of thunder and the heavens opened - we'd set off in sunshine and hadn't brought a coat! A very fast dash to the Land Rover was made without getting too wet. Once the rain eased something made us look over the hedge onto the pool on the opposite side of the road to the creeks and there on the point of the furthest island was a very pale undersided bird with a handful of Redshanks. It was too dark to see it properly but it looked mightily suspicious.
Scanning further round there was a Greenshank and a Little Grebe of note. Something flushed some of the Redshanks but all wings showed thick white trailing edges - no joy, then a lone bird flew over the road and a shout went up 'white rump - long trailing legs' - Lesser Yelllowlegs (179) in the bag!
Once again we walked down the road to see where it had landed on the far side of the marsh. Once again the rain came down this time we weren't so lucky and got a bit soggy running back to the Land Rover.
We drove round to the other side and eventually got terrible views in torrential rain in almost night-time dark light, it wasn't even tea-time! BD fired off a few record shots and then it was tick n run; or at least tick n drive as the rain fell even heavier. Thanks v muchly to the folk who generously allowed us a look through their scope standing aside in the deluge while we had a quick peek.
Where to next? Bank holiday weekend and we've a couple of safaris lined up for you and we should be able to get the mothy out tonight - with the 'big' light for a change.
In the meantime let us know who's been braving the deluges in your outback.



Wednesday, 26 August 2015

We have been out on safari - honest

The Safari has been out n about but not had many photo opportunities this week. We'll start off with a bit of a moth we found early the other morning settled high up on a window at work. It took a good tip-toe  stretch to get the phone anywhere near it.
Word on the virtual street is that it's Agriphila straminella, a common enough species but we'll have to check the records to see if it's been recorded at work in the past.
Patch 2 has been a bit hit abd miss, when it's been quiet it's been very quiet but when it's been good there's been some superb skua action. Yesterday we watched two Arctic Skuas giving a poor Sandwich Tern a right royal mugging. This morning only one was seen but there have been up to half a dozen out there relieving the 300 or more Sandwich Terns of their hard earned fish.
There was a huge shoal of dish this morning which had attracted a good number of gulls, terns and Gannets but none were diving, the fish must have been visible but just too deep so as to be out of reach, there can't have been any marine predators like our blubbery friends the Bottlenose Dolphins or other larger fish to drive them to the surface.Talking of the dolphins a short piece of video appeared on the social media from the weekend of a pod of about 30 Bottlenose Dolphins just out of range from us in the mouth of the River Mersey off Liverpool filmed from a small boat
Other birds of note this morning were a juvenile Kittiwake and three Manx Shearwaters, the fist of those we've seen for a fair while now. Today was too choppy but yesterday's much calmer conditions gave us a Grey Seal in the middle distance.
We had our last children's group of the holiday yesterday afternoon and this time we were at a site we rarely get to explore on the beach in the town centre. We took the kids with their pots and nets to the pools round the pier legs and there they caught hundreds if not thousands of Brown Shrimps. However, there was little else, certainly no large Common Prawns but they did find some tiny juveniles barely bigger than plankton! A few Green Shore Crabs were netted mostly very small ones, the biggest being about an inch and a half across the carapace. A lone piece of seaweed was where they found a Sand Goby and couple of very tiny juvenile Blennies.
After they'd exhausted the possibilities around the pier legs we had a look in a runnel. My word the water was warm, felt almost tropical as we picked out a variety of shells from the shallow pool. The standline beyond the pool gave us a Curved Razor Shell and several broken carapaces of Masked Crabs
There hasn't been much wind recently, which thankfully is what you'd expect in the summer, so there weren't too many shells washed up. The oddest find of the year must have been the black pudding lurking on the sands...how'd that get there?
If only we'd taken a tub of mustard with us!
You just never know what you're going to find.
Where to next? Last day at work before the holiday tomorrow and we might be able to get a little adventure in.
In the meantime let us know who's doing the mugging in your outback.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Odd ball plant at the nature reserve

The Safari had a meeting to attend which was close to the nature reserve and once we were done we were able to have a sunny hour our so over there.
We had a couple of targets for our Patchwork Challenge to find. A quick look from the hide down from the new Visitor Centre, which is looking good with it's new artwork, gave us very little other than the two Garganeys over in the scrape.
We had a look down the dyke and across the fields but there wasn't anything to see. Once near the scrub the dragonflies started to make their presence felt. We had Common Darters basking on the stone path, several Migrant and Brown Hawkers
At the 'new' rear scrape there was a Green Sandpiper (MMLNR #93) asleep in the farthest corner...it always seems to be the farthest corner for us pic-wise at the mo.




We had a chat to GN who was gathering dead hedge material for tomorrow's volunteer group. He'd had a bit of fun disturbing a Wasp nest. While chatting a Cetti's Warbler called from the reeds beyond the bush behind him, the first he'd heard for a while.
He also showed us some plants that had come up put of the seed bank after last winter's construction work. Several lovely blue Cornflowers had come up, how long has that seed lain dormant in the soil? There was also a pretty pink flower we didn't recognise at all. Any ideas anyone?
Rather straggly, about a foot tall at most, with only a few lanceolate leaves.
From there we had a slow walk through the scrub listening out for a chance of Garden Warbler but the scrub was just about silent, nothing was calling or moving in there other than a couple of Woodpigeons, not really surprising given the temperature and time of day, we'd have more luck in the morning.
Out of the scrub on the old track the butterflies were impressive, a Peacock, several small Whites some may well have been Green Veined Whites but wouldn't settle and a fair number of Common Blues. Gard to count as they kept doubling back behind us and then the same or others overtaking us as we walked. Best were a couple of Small Coppers.
Nothing else of any new note was on found on the way back. But annoyingly once near the Land Rover and under the trees all the gulls went up in a noisy panic, a few minutes earlier we'd have stood a chance of seeing what all the fuss was about.
Where to next? A look at Patch 2 and our final kid's group on the beach of the holiday tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's hiding in the farthest corner in your outback.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Moths, bats and an old lady

The Safari was up and out at the nature reserve a few minutes after first light. We had hoped for a fall of some migrants but the overnight weather was back-to-front for that; it rained in the early part of the night and cleared up to leave a fine morning which meant a clear-out of birds was more likely than a drop-in. Not to worry it was still good to be on site before the dog-walkers (aka bird flushers). There wasn''t all that much for them to flush. A Whitethroat or two crept about low down,  Blackcaps 'teck'ed in the not yet ripe Elderberry bushes and unseen Willow Warblers/Chiffchaffs 'hweet'ed from the cover of the dense Hawthorns
A flit in a bush caught our eye and we stood and watched a party of Long Tailed Tits go about their business gleaning tiny invertebrates from the leaves and twigs as they moved single file through the scrub. There were a couple of Blue Tits with them but when they crossed the path we were able to get a count of nine, four Blue Tits and no less than FIVE Chiffchaffs in the flock!
Coming out of the scrub we rounded the bend overlooking the new scrape with caution, it was here we hoped we might find a decent 'drop-in' in the form of a wader, perhaps a Green Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank or something rarer like a Wood Sandpiper or even a Spotted Crake (if only!!!). From our view point we could only see about half of the scrape but there were two ducks in the middle visible just above the tops of the Reeds. Good job it had been raining heavily most of the night and these were weighed down with raindrops otherwise we'd not have see the ducks. They had seen us too so we ever so carefully raised our bins to see they were two Garganeys. Slowly we lifted the camera to our eye and fired of a couple of shots at the one showing most in the open. The second bird started to swim towards it and we were just about to get some pics of them together when the first dog walker came striding up from the opposite direction where a gap in the reeds meant the ducks could see him and off they went like a flash. Why don't these fools (polite version - it's Sunday morning) stop and wait when they see someone with a camera to their face, it's not like it's not obvious what's happening!
Still a bit dark and distant
Rain weighted Common Reed
We walked round to the FBC hide and had  a few minutes in there seeing the Garganeys again on the mere before they flew back to the channel scrape. Not long after that we saw two ducks fly off east into the glare of the rising sun which could have been them. A Reed Warbler flitted through the reed tops and a Water Rail called from the depths but other than those and the incessant mithering squeals of the juvemile Great Crested Grebe it was quiet. We gave it a few more minutes and were rewarded with a Common Sandpiper dropping in and flying up and down the mere calling before landing on the scrape. Almost what we'd been hoping for but the 'wrong type' of sandpiper.
Now it was decisions decisions time - do we continue on the full circuit or go back the way we came? Back the way we came won so off along the embankment we went seeing a Sedge Warbler on the landward side then hearing a Cetti's Warbler halfheartedly singing from the reeds on the lakeward side. The scrape was empty apart from a couple of Coots and a young Moorhen. Stopping in the scrub to see if any of the hidden 'tecks' were going to be a Lesser Whitethroat or a Garden Warbler the only two birds we could get the bins on to were Blackcaps. Behind us a Blackbird rattled its alarm call and we saw the tail end of a Sparrowhawk disappear at speed between the bushes.
In the more open scrub we watched a couple of Whitethroats but it was still pretty quiet and we were running out of time. Along the path bordering the reserve extention (actually both sides of the path here are in the reserve but one side is fenced) there is a large thicket of  Wild Raspberry, one of the luscious fruits was within reach - a real taste sensation! In the main (original) part of the reserve there is a small patch of Soapwort which we didn't notice but at the end of the 'extension' fence and just outside the reserve by an inch or two you couldn't fail to spot a much larger patch of those delicate pink flowers.
While doing some weeding in the garden back at Base Camp a Common Darter was over flying pond for several minutes trying to find a way to the water being thwarted by the anti-heron net. It gave up in the end a and flew off. Increasing cloud later in the afternoon brought about a dozen Swallows swooping low overhead, but as ever there wasn't a House Martin with them, still not had one at Base camp this year; no doubt there's be more if the tidy brigade didn't (illegally) knock the nests off their eaves.
Around tea-time we saw that our Extreme Photographer had sent us an email with some pics of a vole fin his garden, he wanted confirmation that it was a Bank Vole.
With such a lovely reddish fur it is indeed a Bank Vole and although we hate the word we have to say it is exceedingly cute.
In the evening we'd been booked to do our annual moth and bat watching session at a nearby park. The weather forecast didn't look hopeful but it was still quite sunny when we left Base Camp on the three mile drive. However we got to about half way there and it was like driving into the gates of doom - the sky went as black as the Obs of Hell (whatever they are but they're well known round theses parts) and a few raindrops on the windscreen soon developed into a full blown Noah-esque deluge.
We arrived to a distant rumble of thunder but the ran soon eased as we waited for the public to show up. Sure enough a small crowd of waterproofs-clad families began to arrive but the sky darkened again and more lightning showed from the south, where the weather was coming from. With everything sopping wet putting out the moth trap and its electrics wasn't going to happen but a bit of bat detecting was on the cards if the rain held off as the darkness grew. 8.30 was the start time and we had the bat detector switched on and ready to go, we'd even had a distant contact while we waited. As our leader began his welcome introduction lightning flashed all around us 1-and 2-and 3-an...wow that's just about overhead! And then Noah joined us with a bucket of tar, a couple of planks of wood and a big bag of nails and that was the end of mothing and batting.
Or was it???
Back at Base camp we got a call from our Extreme Photographer and took it in the kitchen so as not to disturb Wifey watching the telly. We moved a tea-towel and an Old Lady appeared and made bee (or moth)-line for the pot of tea-bags!
Outside the deluge continued so it was probably just as well the event was abandoned - hope we have better luck next year.




Where to next? There's a bit of a south easterly blowing today and heavy rain is forecast later, we might try to get out when (or just after) it lands to see if anything is dropped by the storm.
In the meantime let us know who's trying to nick off with the beverages in your outback.



Friday, 21 August 2015

Way down south to the Midlands

The Safari is taking you south today and we hope it's exciting as Alicia's adventures to the north, can't wait for her second installment, can you?
We met up with our best boy LCV down on his local patch at breakfast time. We dumped the Land Rover after a quick look at some gulls on the adjacent lake and headed off in his motor. With the gulls, nearly all Black Headed Gulls, there were loads of Great Crested Grebes and a single Little Grebe. Overhead we saw a couple of Swifts, would they be the last of the year? In the distance we heard a Green Woodpecker and a Nuthatch.
We had a few target species, a twitch to do and LCV had quality 'fillers' to add to the day's entertainment. We started at a heathland car park where a lovely tangled piece of Hawthorn had been laid down to make an improvised bird table. Beneath it a Grey Squirrel filled its face.
The food attracted several Blue, Great and Coal Tits, and then a Marsh Tit turned up. Chaffinches and Goldfinches were about and a female Chaffinch had a wash in a pothole puddle. It flew off and came back only when it came back it had turned into a juvenile Bullfinch!
We walked onto the heath and had a scan over the valley. Lots of Swallows hawked insects in the warm sunshine and a Kestrel swooped down to be lost below the tree-line. The target here was a long shot at this late stage of the season and being now hot and late in the morning it was going to be double impossible. On the point of, somewhat sensibly, giving up and moving on the ground wasn't as well vegetated as it first appeared and we were in an Adder hotspot, nothing else for it but to tip-toe through the rough scanning as we went and then LCV flushed a bird from almost under his feet - BINGO - a Woodlark, (175) our target species and carrying a huge caterpillar too. 
He also spotted a Brown Argus butterfly which we rarely see but dipped then he came across a very fresh Small Copper. We could only find Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers.
LCV then suggested we walk down the valley too the woods along the stream at the bottom where there was a chance of finding a Redstart.
There were more Swallows than we thought whizzing low over the Heather which wasn't quite in flower it needed another couple of days of sunshine to bring it fully out. At the bottom it was hot and there was no wind, not ideal birding conditions and it was indeed apparently birdless, not a peep was heard from our feathered friends. But we did spot a skipper butterfly which settled long enough for us to see it had extremely obvious 'dipped in ink' tips to its antennae but not long enough for us to point the camera at it. 99.9999999999% certain it was our very first Essex Skipper, having seen lots pics of them on WB's blog.
Wandering slowly back up the hill we saw a male and juvvy Stonechat. By now we were positively overdressed in our coat and it was time to move on to the next site, a woodland walk with another chance of Redstarts. On the walk in there were Goldcrests calling in the conifers and Long Tailed Tits flitting through the branches. The site is an Ancient Woodland and there are some cracking old trees scattered through the wood. Some of the dead trees are really impressive.
It was getting cloudier and darker now!
We've seen Redstarts in this old monster in the past but no such luck today.
The stream there is a known to have some of those invasive American Signal Crayfish lurking in its stony bed. Between us we must have turned over a hundred or more stones without any success at all.
Time for lunch which was taken at a nearby nature reserve with a boardwalk and viewing area over a bend in the river. It was a very pleasant spot with lots of  families enjoying the wild surroundings. There were 'games' for the young ones to have a go at including musical animals like this fish. 
Half drum half xylophone
A dank dark pool had one mother asking her child if there were any Crocodiles in the water, having seen the Red Eared Terrapin she perhaps should have asked if there were any Alligators in the depths; just like the Florida Everglades it was.
The boardwalk had a bench overlooking the river and it was there we dived into our butties. We weren't the only thing diving in! A Kingfisher (176) appeared with a fish and landed on a snag only a few yards away but it didn't stay long. Its nest was under an overhang on the far bank and it had a favourite perch just out of camera range. It came and  went and went and came all the time we were there, flying from perch to perch, from river to lake and back, diving for fish and diving to have a wash - simply brilliant if only the distance had been a little less and the light a lot better.
Banded, or perhaps Beautiful, Demoisels flitted over a little bay and a Common Tern flew over - it really was a lovely spot but butties finished it was time to move on to our next site and the 'big' twitch.
Were taken to a reservoir which seemed almost as big as the Irish Sea at Patch 2. Below us on the gravel were some Ringed Plovers, which LCV told us were very unusual here, Little Ringed Plover had nested on the gravel but we didn't see any of those. Two Dunlin suddenly became three but we didn't see the third fly in.
This is the smaller half of the reservoir, the other half is across the road which runs along a causeway
But it wasn't small stuff we'd come to see it something much much larger. LCV found our quarry fairly quickly even though only is head was sticking out of a creek. It came into full view after a couple of minutes. It was a long long long way off but it was still a Common Crane (177). His nibs found a Wheatear at that range too - wow!!!
It was so far away it was almost half way back to Base Camp
LCV had a plan though, there were hides much nearer and it had started spitting quite heavily with rain, so a drive round was in order. We stopped at a Little Owl site but our chauffeur wasn't sure exactly where to look for them, it was raining  heavily now so it was likely that any owls would be tucked away well down in their holes anyway.
We arrived a t the first hide, which overlooked another arm of the reservoir so the Crane couldn't be seen from there. Several birders were already scoping an Osprey (178) tucking into a huge fish in a dead tree over on the far bank, the fish was almost as long as the bird itself. Unfortunately the action was too far away through torrential rain to be able to get any pics. Greenshanks were probing the nearby mud and we saw a couple of Ruff and Dunlins.
One of the other birders asked our opinion on a distant gull.
The light was dreadfully poor but we came down on the side of Caspian Gull along with about half of the other birders, the other half were rooting for Yellow Legged Gull. What do you think?

To us the bill looked a bit too long and thin and dull for an adult Yellow Legged. Others liked the look of the long dingy greeny-yellow legs, full high 'Dolly Parton' breast and dark beady eye. Their companions weren't convinced. Fight views weren't very informative at the long range. Showing the pics to our friends at the Nature Reserve they were unanimous with Yellow Legged Gull, MMcG having just returned from the south of France where he had seen a good many Yellow Legged Gulls.
It wasn't a long walk to the other hide but it was a wet one! We passed another impressive dead tree.
A Peacock butterfly braved the rain flitting around under the umbrella of low branches. Out of the woods we came upon a shallow bay with five Ruff. And there on the far side of the creek was the Crane.
A couple of Yellow Wagtails flitted around the sheep and on the short grass there were loads of Pied Wagtails and a/the Wheatear. We had a wander upstream aways looking for Mandarins LCV had seen on a previous visit, but we couldn't find any ducks of any description.
All too soon our day was up and we had to head back to Base Camp after a superb day out even if it was a little damp. Many thanks to LCV for chauffeuring us around and having a good laugh all day. we'll have to do it again at some of his other winter sites.
Yesterday we had a mystery moth on the front window at work - answers on a post card please.
A meeting at lunchtime gave us the info that three Garganeys were at the Nature Reserve. After the meeting we had a trundle down there and had a bit of wait but our patience was rewarded with good if a little distant views. Garganey (MMLNR #92) a good addition to our Patchwork Challenge list, one we were hoping would have been on the list already and were beginning to run out of time for.
Today we spotted a nice Hoverfly enjoying a sunny interlude in the work's garden before we headed off to meet another family group on the beach. CR should be able to ID it for us, he's pretty good at them.
We met the kids at the beach up by the pier where they found tons of Brown Shrimps, a few Common Prawns, some Blennies and a couple of  Sand Gobies. Whizzing around in the pots were several tiny Speckled Sea Lice.
One of the youngsters told us about a giant jellyfish on the beach - we had to investigate and he was only too willing to show us his find. It was disappointingly small in the end...a baby Barrel Jellyfish.
Another family returned from under the pier with a pot full of goodies and when we looked in to see what they'd found  - the jackpot that's what! Another Idotea linearis and this time it was going to be photo-able.
 A bit of wrangling using a Cockle Shell saw it moved to an empty tray.
All good stuff! Isn't wildlife brill!
Where to next? Might have a very early pre-dog walker wander round the Nature Reserve in the morning.
In the meantime let us know who's prancing around on the longest legs in town in your outback.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Scotland Wildlife Wonderland

The Safari has another wildlife action-packed guest blog for you today from our young AFON mentoree Alicia who has recently returned from two weeks in the wilds of Scotland...and tells us she managed to survive the Scottish Mighty Midges and the (far worse) Ticks!
This is the first of two blogs she has written for you - enjoy..we certainly did!
Week 1

This Summer my family and I went on holiday to two different areas of Scotland. Having been to Scotland before I knew about the vast amounts of wildlife that roamed around the wilderness and I was really looking forward to returning.

Our first week's destination was on the West Coast of Scotland, just North of Skye – and it was an action packed week of wildlife!

On the Sunday, the day after arriving, we went down to a cove near some moorland – it was a very beautiful area although the day was a bit breezy. I saw plenty of animals including Grey Seals, Grey Herons, Buzzards & Kestrels all along the coast around the cove which was lovely to see. As we walked further inland closer to the moors we were greeted by a truly extraordinary display: two Hen Harriers dipping and diving on the skyline! I'd never seen Hen Harriers before, and the 'disappearances' of them have caused a steep decline in numbers in England so I was incredibly excited at seeing not one

Hen Harrier

but two! They were displaying to each other – a beautiful sight to witness, and several other people stopped to watch them. Even though they were far away, it was incredibly special  to witness the Hen Harrier pair together; they're such beautiful birds and so important to our country's ecosystem. It is truly horrific how they are persecuted, so I was thrilled to see these two, a first for me!

(Edit - Please sign the government e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting - the cause of this illegal persecution) 

A couple of days later, we went down to the coast. The west coast of Scotland  is breath-taking and wildlife abundant. We saw almost seventy Grey Seals and a wide variety of sea birds – we also saw a Great Northern Diver bobbing along on the sea – I'd never seen one before, another first! Even though the sea wasn't exactly calm, the Diver managed to swim along it very majestically, diving under the water every now and then before coming back up for air. We watched it for many minutes, and I took several photos which we looked at later to check its ID.

Stonechat with caterpillar to feed young

As the day progressed we made our way through moorland where we saw a Wood Warbler, Pied Wagtails, a Stonechat family, a Buzzard and a Sexton Beetle. All were lovely to see – especially the Wood Warbler as I don't tend to see very many in Yorkshire (although funnily enough we just ringed one at our LNR - Local Nature Reserve -  last week!).  On our way back from the sea, we saw something truly special – a Hen Harrier flew straight over our car! We got an amazing view of it, and I couldn't quite believe I'd seen another one! Hen Harriers have quite a 'strong-hold' in Scotland, I can only hope it stays that way.

Thursday 30th of July was definitely one of the highlights from my first week in Scotland, when my Dad and I went out on a two and a half hour trip on a RIB, to hopefully watch Dolphins and Whales - it did not disappoint!

The water was fairly calm, and it was a day where the sun was shining its warm rays on the west coast of Scotland – it was a perfect day for sailing and for wildlife spotting. We travelled far out into the blue so we were only about 10 miles off the North of Skye, this we were told was a prime area for Whales.  The sea hasn't been that warm this year due to the cooler weather  so the plankton hasn't come close to the shores of the mainland but is further out to sea; we were told where there is plankton there will be whales.

Gannets

We stayed for half an hour watching a huge cacophony of seabirds including Gulls, Terns, Skuas and Gannets dive into the water as well as the odd Grey Seal bobbing about, however sadly a whale didn't join them. As we progressed further the driver told us he saw something fin-shaped, and so we watched the water, the swell was huge making it difficult to see at times, and the water sparkled in the blazing sun, like it was filled with diamonds. Suddenly an adult Minke Whale breached straight out of the water in front of us, sending sparkling water into the sky before splashing back into the sea. It was  spectacular – and every camera on the boat missed it! But the Minke Whales didn't stop there, eventually we saw more fins and backs as the whales turned through the water. It was quite difficult to count how many whales there were in total due to the large amounts of swell, however we saw at least 3! This was yet another first for me as I had never seen Minke Whales before – they were much bigger than I thought they would be, and most the time I only saw a bit of them!

Minke Whale

We spent almost an hour with the Minkes before our Skipper got a call from the Mainland saying that a pod of Common Dolphins had been sighted just off the coast of Gairloch, so we headed off to see them. We passed lots of fledged puffins bobbing around on the water on the way – they all looked very dull without their colourful beaks; I'd never seen a young Puffling so close-up so it was lovely to see.

When we arrived in the area, we were greeted by a huge number of Gannets streaking into the water like bullets, Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins, gulls, Arctic Terns, Skua and many more sea birds were also diving in and out. Everyone was looking around for the Dolphins – and as I focused into the diving Gannets with my camera I saw a fin! All of a sudden the water was alive with over 20 common dolphins and their calves, they dived underneath our boat and leapt out of the water after the fish, chasing each other and surfacing. The Dolphins ran next to our boat, so close I could have almost touched some of them, and the calves stuck by their mother's side. It was beautiful to watch – I'd never seen Common Dolphins before either, so it made it even more special.

Common Dolphins and Gannets

After almost half an hour our skipper turned the boat away so the Dolphins could feed in peace and we returned to land – the boat trip was truly extraordinary, we saw so much despite the cold year having decreased the amount of plankton coming to our shores.

The next day was our last full day on the west coast of Scotland before we moved on to our second destination, and so we went to Inverewe Gardens,  which are full of plants from all around the world. The gardens are also on the coast, and as I was looking out to sea I saw a blob that looked like a thin Seal. My Dad and I took turns in looking at it and we came to the conclusion that it was an Otter! It was lovely to see this Otter even though I have seen them before, it was another species added to my now long list of things I had seen this week.

On the 1st of August, Saturday, we were travelling to our second destination and on the way we stopped at Chanonry point on the Moray Firth. I had been there last year - it was the place where I saw my first Bottlenose Dolphins, so I was thrilled to return this year. Although the weather was wet and windy the Dolphins still appeared, however not in the great numbers we had seen them last year – we saw about five, fairly far out to sea, playing and hunting in the waters; it was wonderful to watch. We also saw two Arctic Terns, a mini mumuration of Starlings, a large flight of sparrows, a huge harem of Grey Seals and a Buzzard.

Overall my first week in Scotland had been a huge success. I had seen multiple firsts; the Common Dolphins, Minke Whales, Hen Harriers and the Great Northern Diver (and the Northern Eggar Moth Caterpillar which we saw on a walk in the moors). The highlights were of course the boat trip and the Hen Harriers – it was a dream to see a pair out in the wild displaying; I  only wish that I could see Hen Harriers like that in England.

Northern Eggar Moth Caterpillar at Ben Eighe

My first wild week in Scotland had been a true wildlife wonderland, and I couldn't wait for my second week in the wilderness to start...

By Alicia        Aged 15                                            August 2015
An absolutely wonderful account of some amazing wildlife encounters. We're just a teeny bit jealous!
We hope that any youngsters reading this are inspired by the fantastic wildlife we have in Britain and we would encourage them to join AFON to meet lots of other like-minded youngsters and share their passions and experiences - it's a great community.
Where to next? You can either come on a safari with us round the Midlands or you could be back in Scotland with Alicia. You will get both in due course though.
In the meantime let us know who's  doing the diving in your outback.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Can't beat a bit of snail racing

The Safari was hoping to be able to take a tasty looking moth or two to our summer fair on Sunday but there wasn't anything in the trap colourful enough to inspire the general populace. Best of the bunch was the first Willow Beauty of the year.
Easy to spot on the wall
A little trickier on a wooden background
The fair had a sustainability and community theme and went well, the first one we've done, thankfully the weather was glorious and that brought lots of people out.
Marine animals touch tank
Welly throwing competition - very popular
Male Sand Lizard
Juvenile Sand Lizards nearly ready to be released into the wild in North Wales as part of the captive breeding reintroduction scheme - most people didn't know we had lizards in this country never mind on the dunes only half a mile away!
About half an hour before the finish all the gulls went up with a racket and the Starlings and Pigeons too. We didn't see what made them flush but we did here the unmistakable call of a Green Sandpiper (P2 #60) a Patch 2 lifer, where it had come from is anyone's guess there's precious little habitat for one anywhere near.
The sea has been quite calm so far this week but produced little of interest other than distant Grey Seals. Mammals were also represented at Base Camp by the first Grey Squirrel we've seen there for a long time, maybe over a year!
Today we had a family group pond dipping and mini-beast safari-ing. All the usual suspects were netted. Nothing outstanding was found other than a huge load of tiny snails when the kids were looking for Garden Snails to 'race'. We think they are probably juvenile Garden Snails.
Over turning one the laths of wood we've managed to get a huge splinter of rotten wood down the underside of our finger nail and have only been able to get about 1/3 of it out. It's beginning to throb and we can feel some septic fun coming on.
Where to next? A day out with LCV on his Midlands patch - should be good.
In the meantime let us know who's got where they shouldn't in your outback.